Tribal Reactions to the 1851 Treaties

In the history of treaty making , there were two treaty periods for western Oregon, 1851, and 1853 to 1855. The 1851 treaties, 19 of them, were negotiated with tribes in four locations, Champoeg, Tansy Point, and Port Orford were the sites of the main negotiations, The final location, Oregon City, was where the Clackamas treaty was negotiated twice and finally agreed to by the tribe in late 1851. Anson Dart, the Indian Superintendent of Oregon then takes the treaties to Washington, DC and there, in 1852 they died in Congress, Dart finally advising Congress to never ratify them because settlers had already claimed areas negotiated to be set aside for reservations. It was viewed as too expensive to have to buy back the land. Dart fails to admit that he was largely responsible for the treaties and for making sure they were valid before bringing them to Congress. It is also the fact that the treaties were announced in local newspapers, and it may have been a strategy on the part of settlers to claim all the land ahead of Congress reading the treaties so they would be forced to refuse them.

Map Graphic of the eleven treaties signed at Tansy Point, Created By David Lewis, Tuality treaty is added for comparison

In late 1852, Dart is forced to resign because he failed to deliver viable treaties of land purchase. Joel Palmer is appointed in the superintendent position and Palmer’s work sets the foundation for reservations, tribal removal, and rights which we live with today.

It is still unclear when and if the tribes were ever told their 1851 treaties were not to be ratified. For some tribes, those of the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue River valleys, they probably did hear about the treaties, because of their regular association with settlers and especially when approached by treaty negotiators for new treaties. But what about other tribes, like the Tillamook, who never got another treaty after 1851. What were they told, when were they told, and what actions did they take after the negotiations?

I have postulated that the Tualatin peoples may have remained in an encampment by Wapato Lake from 1851 to April 1856 when they were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. Originally they had lived in numerous villages throughout the valley and by the lake. The lake was their most important resource, because it was full of wapato and ducks, and the principal Chief in this era, Chief Kiacuts, had land by the lake. In fact in the late 1840s Chief Kiacuts had a challenge to his claim, a settler Donald McLeod built his cabin on Kiacuts’ land and made a claim for the property at the Land office in Oregon City. Chief Kiacuts and his friends tore down the cabin and for this the settler took him to the local circuit court in Hillsboro. There Chief Kiacuts won his case to keep his land in exchange for a horse for tearing down the cabin. This appears to be the only case of a native person winning a court case in this period in Oregon, certainly the first of its kind.

Wapato Lake Reservation 1851 (unratifed)

During treaty negotiations, the tribes trusted the federal negotiators that they were able to faithfully represent the US government. In preparation for ratification of the treaties, if they even know what this process meant, many of the Tualatin bands likely began moving onto the reservation as outlined in the treaty, the area around Wapato Lake. It is also noted in many histories (letters to the Office of the Superintendent and reports) that once a tribe “abandoned” an area, usually because of a promise of a reservation and removal, their land and houses were be immediately occupied by white settlers who also took their livestock and other valuable possessions they could not bring with them.  So it may be that the Tualatin people, once they removed, were forced to remain at Wapato Lake.

Another image of the Tualatin reservation, from 1852 GLO map, note tent images on SE of lake and Flett’s Claim on the SW.

Their encampment was noted as being on the south end of the lake, and close by was the land claim of John Flett, an aid and translator to Joel Palmer. For these reasons it seems likely that most of the tribe remained at the Wapato lake encampment, close to the Chief Kiacuts land because his land was somewhat protected by a court decision. In the 1855 and later correspondence with Flett, its clear that the Wapato Lake encampment is fully occupied.

Census of the Calapooia Tribe Band Tualatin Encampment at Wapato Lake November 1855

Did other tribes also remove to areas designated for them following their 1851 treaties? The answer to this is unclear. Those tribes who were to get reservations, the central and north Willamette Valley tribes and the Clatsop, probably moved to their reservation locations (as an expression of faith in the words of the treaty negotiators) and may have remained there until their removal to a reservation. Unfortunately there are not a lot of records about the movements of the tribes in these areas from 1851 to 1856. But other tribes, who only got the right to remain in their current habitations until their death, which was the main right granted in the treaties at Tansy Point and Port Orford, its unclear if the tribes moved at all. The Chinookan people were being heavily settled upon, the white people taking land claims which included tribal villages. Dart’s sub-Indian agent for Tansy Point Robert Shortess even complained about this process and for his complaints, he was fired.

But again what about the Tillamook and Nehalem, both of these tribes never got another treaty. They are not included in the expansive Coast Treaty, (even though some scholars suggest the Coast treaty covered the whole Oregon Coast). Their kin to the south, Nestucca and Nechesna (Nechesne) were both included in the northern treaty meeting at the Umpqua in the summer of 1855.  After removal of most tribes in 1856 there was developed Indian settlements on the outskirts of coastal towns like Tillamook where Indian people had shacks. These Indian towns were situated outside of the white towns, because they were not allowed to live in the town,  and these places were commonly called squaw towns or Indian towns.  The local natives, and other undesirable people (minorities and criminals) lived in these encampments for decades while working for the white people and their industries in the local areas. At Tillamook the town was called Hobsonville. Could this have been the approved area the Tillamook and Nehalem peoples removed to following the 1851 treaties? It was reported that there was a mixed community of Clatsop and Tillamook people at Hobsonville.

Why is this important? My own interests are to understand what the tribes knew, when they knew it, and what are the effects of the actions of the settlers and treaty negotiators towards the tribes. The existence of tribal people today is a direct result of the severe changes  from by the actions of treaty negotiators and settlers. All agreements, whether on paper or voiced, are important to understand the decisions made by our ancestors. Historians have painted a picture of the tribal people as being victims of their own lack of knowledge and perhaps not competitive enough to hold on to their land and rights. I have found that when I drill down into the actions of both tribal peoples and settlers that the tribes largely made extremely reasonable decisions based on their agreements with the Americans.

The probably fact that Native people were not told the treaties were not to be ratified caused continued losses of land and rights for at least five years. Diseases were introduced and the culture was further changed forever due to lack of responsibility of the US to the Tribes they were colonizing. These challenges continued for the next seven decades at least until Native people were granted citizenship in 1924. Challenges to tribal rights did not end there but continued through the 20th century with termination and loss of language, culture, and rights until restoration in the 1970s and 80s. Until the tribes were restored as their own sovereign nations with rights to help their own people, there were continuous declines.

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